Fury as student teacher is reprimanded by university bosses for saying he supports staff member at Yorkshire school ‘who showed Prophet Muhammad cartoon to pupils’
- MMU student told his course leader he was ‘extremely concerned’ about Batley
- Batley Grammar teacher is under police protection after showing picture in class
- MMU student said he worried about the ‘cowardly response from the unions and other bodies connected to teaching’ amid the row over the Batley teacher
A teacher trainee was hauled before a fitness to practise meeting after saying he ‘would not hesitate’ to use images of the Prophet Mohammed in a class.
The Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) student had told his course leader he was ‘extremely concerned’ about the recent case of a teacher at Batley Grammar School who was suspended after he showed an image of the prophet to pupils.
The Batley, West Yorkshire teacher and his family are still under police protection, and the threat to their safety is judged as so severe that even their relatives do not know where they are now living, more than six weeks after fleeing their home.
The MMU student, who is set to complete his Postgraduate Certificate in Education course this summer, had written an email to his course leader on April 1 saying he worried about the ‘cowardly response from the unions and other bodies connected to teaching’, The Telegraph reports.
‘I would like to know whether or not MMU is prepared to stand up for any student who finds themselves in a similar position,’ he added, arguing that the protests which arose amid the row were a ‘clear attempt to enforce a de facto blasphemy law on teachers and schools’.
‘I would not hesitate to use drawings of any religious figure, including Mohammed, and I certainly will not bow to any pressure from protests, and I would like to think that my university will stand with me,’ he said.
The course leader did not reply, but one month later the student was contacted by the head of the teacher education department demanding he attend a ‘fitness to practise cause for concern meeting’.
The reaction has prompted fury as critics voiced their support for the trainee teacher. The Free Speech Union said: ‘It is absolutely ludicrous that a trainee teacher could be barred from teaching for supporting the Batley Grammar School teacher over the Mohammed cartoons. There is no blasphemy law in England, nor should there ever be again.’
The Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) student had told his course leader he was ‘extremely concerned’ about the recent case of a teacher at Batley Grammar School who showed an image of the prophet to pupils (pictured: Protests outside Batley, March 26)
The course leader did not reply, but one month later the student was contacted by the head of the teacher education department demanding he attend a ‘fitness to practise cause for concern meeting'(pictured: Brooks building of Manchester Metropolitan University)
The fitness meeting could result in a referral to a Fitness to Practise Panel following his comments claiming he would be willing to show the picture of Mohammed in class, he was told.
The head of department told him it could be a breach of Teachers’ Standards – which include upholding ‘public trust in the profession’.
The concern ‘specifically relates to the Prophet Mohammed’ due to ‘particular sensitivities’ around drawings of him, the student was told.
The student teacher called the response ‘ludicrous and humiliating’.
An MMU spokesman told MailOnline: ‘Manchester Metropolitan University has always supported and championed freedom of speech. We provide an academic environment in which debate and the sharing of views is encouraged.
‘However, there is a difference between the expectations on students within an academic environment on a University campus and the expectations once our students move into a professional practice environment, such as a primary school.
‘We look at all cases on their individual merits and in knowledge of the full context around a particular issue, and then take a course of action that is relevant and most suitable to deal with that specific issue.
‘In this instance, it was thought best to have an initial discussion with the student about the potential impact in a primary school environment of the suggestion that he would be happy to share imagery which would be upsetting to people of a particular faith.
‘We believe the discussion with the student was positive and constructive and we await further feedback from him before deciding whether any further steps are required.’
It comes after the row over Batley deepened this month as Imam Adil Shahzad, who travelled to Batley from Bradford to join the protests, insisted he wants the teacher dismissed.
The MMU student, who is set to complete his Postgraduate Certificate in Education course this summer, had written an email to his course leader on April 1 saying he worried about the ‘cowardly response from the unions and other bodies connected to teaching’ amid the row over the Batley teacher
‘A precedent has to be set. Suspending the teacher was in the right direction and we won’t accept anything less than a sacking,’ he said.
Speaking through his father, a 14-year-old Muslim pupil had revealed what happened to spark the row, telling the Mail on Sunday that cartoons depicting the Prophet were shown on an overhead projector along with other images of the former US President Donald Trump, Pope Francis and Boris Johnson.
The Prophet cartoons were first published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in September 2005 and again in the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, later the target of a gun rampage that left 12 members of staff dead.
The schoolboy said pupils were unaware of who was shown in the cartoons until the teacher spelled out it was the Prophet and asked for their reaction.
‘No one said anything. I was just gobsmacked. But no one raised their hand to say anything,’ the pupil said.
The teenager said the teacher, a declared atheist, was popular with students and had never previously shown any disrespect towards Islam. ‘He never said anything bad, but he likes to challenge pupils’ minds. That’s the way he teaches.’
When the lesson ended and the students began to file out, the teacher asked: ‘So who is going to tell their parents tonight?’
The 14-year-old was one of those who did, initiating first an exchange of messages on a WhatsApp group for parents and then complaints to the school.
One of the parents has claimed to have spoken to the teacher on the phone, writing on social media: ‘I got a call from Mr *****. I asked him to confirm what [my son] told me and he agreed. He [claimed] he has freedom of expression under his British values and could use that image. He stated he got consent from the children beforehand.’
By the following day, scores of Muslim protesters were at the school gates demanding the teacher be sacked.
Among them was local imam Mohammed Amin Pandor, who has opposed gay marriage and even shared a fatwa against the Covid-19 vaccine.
He said: ‘Ideally this teacher’s teaching days are over.’
On March 24, the teacher was suspended and the school accompanied its unreserved apology with the announcement of an independent panel to investigate.
More than 130 Islamic clerics – including Imam Shahzad – wrote an open letter to Boris Johnson, accusing the teacher of ‘white supremacist ideology’.
In a reply, Schools Minister Nick Gibb said: ‘It is never acceptable to threaten or intimidate teachers. We encourage dialogue between parents and schools when any issues emerge. Schools are free to include a full range of issues in their curriculum.’
Support for the teacher is growing among parents. ‘The teacher should have known better but if it’s a mistake, he should be allowed back,’ said Mohammed Akram, 56. ‘We should forgive him and move on.’
In a statement, Batley Multi-Academy Trust said: ‘The investigator will make recommendations so, where necessary, appropriate lessons can be learned.’
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